Time: The Case Against Summer Vacation?

(cross-posted at Gifted Exchange)

This week’s Time magazine cover story deals with a thorny issue: summer vacation. Why is it thorny? Because most of us romanticize it, and yet it does serious academic damage to people who can least afford it.

We all have grand summer memories. Certainly by middle school, this was my favorite time of year, a nearly 3-month break from a plodding school routine. Before I was old enough for a full-time job, I did summer theater and went to academic camps at Northwestern, both of which were far more stimulating than most things that happened during the academic year. (Now, my two full-time summer jobs at age 17 and 18, working at Fazoli’s Italian Restaurant, and Osco Drugs, were a different story, but all nostalgia requires a bit of finessing).

We all like to picture Tom Sawyer-esque romps, but viewed more critically, there are many problems with this break now that most of us are no longer farmers. For starters, it leaves working parents scrambling for childcare. I’ve been amazed how many work-from-home parents seem to be trying to stumble through it, with Facebook posts complaining about the situation. School is not supposed to be childcare, but that is the reality for many people, and most jobs don’t only run September-June.

More importantly, though, there’s reasonable evidence that taking 2-3 months off from school really harms vulnerable students. This makes perfect sense; artists and musicians need daily practice to stay on top of their game, and students do too. While my summers featured plenty of reading and enrichment opportunities which could be deemed academic “practice” (again, until the Fazoli’s/Osco’s fun), many kids wind up in what is charmingly referred to as “self-care.” That is, they are home alone while their parent or parents work, with watching TV considered the least bad of all possible options. This is not doing anyone any favors.

I thought the Time article made a good case that the solution is not merely to extend the school year (since much of what happens in American schools is sclerotic and ineffective anyway). The solution is to make a better net of summer camps and programs that make learning fun. Frankly, this should happen during the whole school year, but we have to play the cards we are dealt. The link, above, gives an intro to the piece, and the article in the print magazine highlights several great programs from Indianapolis to Corbin, KY where programs provide as much as 10 weeks of 10-hour days which sound like a lot of fun. Think arithmetic and fishing, balancing each other out. Or a fire-fighting themed camp.

For readers here, what are you doing with your kids during summer break? Is it a scramble, or do you have something you always do?



4 Responses to Time: The Case Against Summer Vacation?


  1. Joan says:

    I read the Time article. My children are 13 and 17. We just returned from a vacation which included Boston. We explored the historic sites and visited the science museum. My younger one is signed up for several activities this summer. My older one is involved in football but also has required summer reading and projects to be completed before school begins. While my children are in public school, my husband and I strongly believe we are our children’s educators. Not just there teachers. We are not rich by any means but unfortunately many children do not have the advantages or parental involvement those around us take for granted. I am in favor of summer enrichment. I don’t think extending the school year would help at least not here. There is so much focus on teaching geared to standardized testing.

  2. Cara Marcano says:

    I agree that it should be about enrichment and just keeping up their academic skills. The idea that parents should be responsible for this or home schooling their kids is kind of absurd to me especially if we want to have careers. This weekend my husband took our daughter to a balloon festival and I take her to the free trial gymnastic classes and thank god for us DAY CARE IS OPEN YEAR ROUND !

    Our public library has a great free summer reading program which keeps kids entertained from about 10 a.m. to 12:30 or so. Their is a recreation program in our town that is about
    These are among the few middle-class options. Other programs require more planning and attention and money.
    One good thing is that the neighborhood kids are around so if we have a network and a good system of neighbors, which admittedly is getting lost in this country, you can sort of have the kids bounce between houses and there is some benefit to that socialization and free play but the key is no tv and to have the snacks and the weather cooperate. Very difficult to encourage free play outside when it is 100 degrees every day!
    Affordable stimulating and relevant to each child’s interests programming is required and for some kids academic work should be required. Our public schools cancelled all remedial and review programming due to funding cuts but our public library got a grant and kids can go there without their parents. You can get a zoo pass or take your kids to the low cost stuff at the local markets or farms or museums but this requires you take time off from work or have paid child care and this is very hard to justify for some people once their kids are older b/c of the expense and logistics I think.

  3. I’m glad to hear someone’s finally suggesting a solution to summer slide other than extending the school year with more of same, because I distinctly remember feeling I learned much more of practical value to me in 7 weeks of summer camp than I did in 9 months of school. Looking forward to spending the whole summer fully engaged in hands-on activities outdoors was what enabled me to endure being bored stiff in school the rest of the year. Making meaningful alternative summer enrichment activities more widely available and affordable for more children sounds like a step in the right direction.

  4. Michelle Havens says:

    Elizabeth Wissner-Gross as a couple of books full of ideas for summer enrichment. While her target is getting kids into top colleges, her ideas can be used to provide a child in public school with a truly customized education. She recommends using summers to develop your children’s interests and talents. The resources she lists can be used as early as sixth grade. I wish I would have found them earlier.

    I gave up on the school system and started homeschooling when my daughter was in high school, but it’s not necessary to go that extreme to provide your children with a customized education.

    By the way, I loved Genius Denied.